9-14-2017 – Big Hands

My driver in Memphis today: “Big Hands”

He told me that was his nickname when he worked for the government. And yes, this 67-year-old, 6’2, African American has huge hands.

We started off with pleasantries:
Me: “Did you grow up here?”
Him: “Yes sir. Born and raised, except for when I was in the military.”
Me: “Wow, thank you for your service, where did you serve?”
Him: “I served as a Marine in Vietnam sir.”

The conversation continued and he explained that he was in the service for 6 years and was a bomb disposal expert. He told me he got out because he saw too many of his friends getting blown up and figured that it would eventually happen to him and he had a young family to support.

By the age of 19 he was married and a father. Tragedy struck when his young wife died in her sleep – he simply woke up to find her dead. He wistfully shared: “it was a nice way for her to go but she was much too young.” He waited until his kids finished school to find love again and is married for 20 years. He said: “I could have stayed kind of single but she told me one day – we better get married or we both have to move on.”

But what I really wanted to ask him what it was like to grow up in the segregated South. It was my 3rd car trip (and 5th in total) before I had the courage to ask him. He told me that he remembers sitting in the back of the bus on the way to school. He also remembered his parents bringing him to see MLK but not allowing any of the teenage children to join marches or protests because they knew it could be dangerous. He remembered when MLK was shot in the city.

He told me that his parents taught him to see white people as good people and that being a bad person is not about being black or white. He told me you have to understand history to realize that white people liberated the slaves. He proudly told me: “It wasn’t black people who elected Obama, it was good white people who could see past the color of his skin.” He told me he raised his children to not think of themselves as “less than” and that they had to respect people and hate no one.

Unsolicited, he told me that he respects President Trump. He shared that he was raised to respect people and his time in the military taught him to especially respect authority. He remembers liking President Nixon and concluded by saying: “when there is darkness inside someone, it eventually comes to light and I love Jesus so I believe in God’s grace.” He went on to talk about Moses and he lost me.

We had a good laugh about how he got the nickname “big hands. He left me in no doubt that he has a big heart too.




Fr. Martin, Fr. Cathal, friends, and family:

It’s my privilege to say more than a few words on behalf of Gerard, Declan, and myself.

I’m going to take this opportunity to honor our father as we celebrate his long life. I hope that we’ll be able to laugh, and I hope that we’ll be able to cry, as we remember a great man.


Peter Faughnan was born on August 9, 1923, the fourth son of Paul and Margaret Faughnan, who lived on a small Leitrim farm in the townland of Clooncliva, outside of Mohill.

By all accounts, Dad grew up in a happy family, although it was a hard life on the small farm. The seven boys (TP, Bill, Jimmy-Joe, Peter, Charlie, Sean, and Steve) were very close. These brothers would have always relied on and loved each other. The brothers provided a great example for all of us of what family is and what it should be. (More recently, Dad would visit his brother Bill daily until, sadly, Bill passed in 2009. This was an absolutely lovely relationship for all of us to observe. )

Dad left school before receiving his Intermediate Certificate – help was always needed on the farm and my father loved farming. At the age of 16, he left Leitrim and joined his brothers Jimmy-Joe and Charlie in Dublin. I remember him telling me that he learned his way around by following buses on his bicycle.

While his first job in Dublin was working in a hardware store, his first big job was driving a lorry for CIE. He would eventually move back to Leitrim and spend most of the mid-1960s working in construction. This included the ongoing construction project that was the family home.

Most of his working life was spent in Campbells, a hardware shop in the middle of Carrick. He retired in 1984 at the age of 61.

He married the love of his life, Girlie, on January 16, 1957. While they initially lived in his home place, Clooncliva, they would eventually settle in Cortober, where he lived for almost 60 years.


When someone has lived for 93 years, we have a lot of information about his life. Today I want to talk about:

  • Peter the entrepreneur
  • Peter the mischief-maker
  • Peter the community servant

Peter the Entrepreneur

My father was an entrepreneur long before we even knew what that meant. My mother would often declare, “Your father is a great provider.” He always seemed to be scheming up some idea to generate cash and a better life for us. Some examples include:

  • A bed-and-breakfast business catering to anglers.
  • Breeding Irish Kennel Club-registered Pomeranian dogs with such exotic names as Sandy, Fifi, Pinky, Perky, and Frisky.
  • Selling antiques, hay, silage, and – of course – cows and calves.

Most of these ventures were successful and provided us with a comfortable living. But, of course, he had a few unsuccessful ventures – and stories to go along with them.

In the 1970s, he had a very brief career as a sheep farmer. After purchasing several acres of pasture in Jamestown, he thought that he’d raise sheep on this land. If you are going to buy sheep in county Leitrim, you have to go up into the mountains, so he headed off to Dowra or Blacklion with a trailer. My father loved to haggle, so you know he’d have purchased those six or eight sheep at a good price. These beasts were the kind that had big horns and shaggy coats. Buying one or two sheep each from different farmers, he loaded them in the trailer and off he headed home, delighted with himself. When he got to Jamestown, he and Declan opened the trailer gate and set the sheep free. And the sheep took off! They took one look at the hedges and, sensing freedom, the sheep either jumped over the hedges or ran straight through them. My Dad and Declan could only look on with dismay as the sheep disappeared. Unlike cows, sheep are very, very fast. As the sheep disappeared, so too did any dreams my father might have about becoming a sheep farmer.

There is a moral to this story, which explains part of what went wrong: When you buy sheep from different flocks, they will be afraid of each other and run away.

Later, Dad would have another agriculture-related venture. At some point in the late 1970s, after a successful career breeding dogs, he decided he’d go a bit more exotic and breed bantam cocks: exotic fowl with hairy feet. I don’t think my mother was “in” on this particular idea. Dad arrived home with two bantam cocks and put them in the shed in our back garden. Everything was fine until about half past four the next morning. The bantam cocks announced their arrival – crowing loudly and waking up everyone in Cortober. After a few days of this, my mother gave him an ultimatum: The bantam cocks would have to go.

Being resourceful and somewhat full of mischief, he decided to take the exotic, hairy-footed fowl to his farmer friend Joe Reilly. Joe was a simple man from Northern Ireland and my father convinced him that he was gifting him with two prized Russian gazebos. Joe was over the moon and we heard later that he was down in the pub that night telling everyone (careful not to swear) that (and I quote): “I have two buckin’ Russian gazebos up at the house.”

Peter the Mischief-Maker

As you can see, in addition to being a bit of an entrepreneur, Dad had a great sense of fun and was full of mischief. He could mimic people and enjoyed nothing better than setting up what we today would call a prank.

There was one annual event that used to strike fear in his sons’ hearts. That was the annual fancy-dress party that was “Phil the Fluter’s Ball.”

  • One year, he dressed as a guard (policeman), jumping on cars, jumping in cars, and causing general traffic consternation at the town clock.
  • Then there was the time he got political. There was a big debate in Carrick-on-Shannon about having a swimming pool. So he and his partner-in-crime, the late Madge Burke, dressed as two tourists visiting Carrick. They headed downtown, he in a skimpy speedo with a rose sticking out of his navel and Madge in a skimpy bikini. Their outfits were paired with sunglasses and big floppy hats. Their sign simply said: WHERE’S THE SWIMMING POOL? Now, let me tell you: this was a pair of 50-year-olds!
  • Another year, he dressed up as a woman (again, with Madge Burke). Not having high heels, he emerged as a glamorous woman – wearing Wellington boots. He proceeded over to our home to surprise my mother, who had no idea what he was up to. She simply said, “Peter, you are so silly.”

We, his sons, were mortified, living in fear that people would figure out that he was our father.

The extraordinary thing about this is that he could have all this fun without taking a drink. He was a very proud pioneer. While he loved going out for the night, he would be very careful to always leave the pub promptly at closing time. In his mind, there could be nothing worse than getting caught for after-hours drinking and having “your name in the paper.”

Peter the Community Servant

In the days after his death, we had many neighbors visit the house, saying simply, “He was a great neighbor.” Dad was a community man.

He was a long-serving member of the Carrick Fire Brigade. When the siren would go off, he could be heard shouting, “Girlie, where are my car keys?” Now, my Mother never drove a day in her life – and, while Dad was a notoriously slow driver, he would turn into a Formula 1 driver the minute he heard the siren go off.

He was a long-serving member of the Cortober Bingo Committee. Only illness would keep him from being in this hall on a Sunday night. His actions every Sunday have also stayed with all of us to this day: He would religiously head up to St. Patrick’s Hospital to visit patients. He had a word for everyone and always carried some Emerald sweets.

Dad also would never miss a funeral. He traveled the length and breadth of the county to attend funerals. It was very important for him to pay his respects and honor any family ties. This didn’t always pan out the way he had intended, however. My grandfather and Dad would see a death notice and my grandfather would say, “This is one for us.” A debate would then ensue about the connection or relationship. My grandfather would sometimes end the conversation with, “Dammit, do you not know your own relations?”

One time they went to a funeral in Mullingar, paid their sympathies, gave in the mass card, and, when they finally looked in the coffin, my grandfather whispered to my father: “Bedammit, that’s not him at all!”

These stories provided much laughter for us over the years.


For all these colorful, happy memories, what we will most remember about my father is his love and his kindness.

His Wife

The first and biggest love of his life was our mother. They met in Elphin, playing badminton. They were an unlikely pair – he from a small farm in Leitrim, she from a sophisticated large farm in Roscommon.

My parents basically eloped; it’s a most beautiful story that my father would delight in telling. My mother lived at home on the family farm and my grandmother was entertaining possible suitors for her daughter. One night, when Dad was dropping Mom home, they saw the car of a potential suitor outside my mother’s home – a much older man, a politician from County Mayo.

My father said to my mother: “If you choose me, meet me outside your house tomorrow at 9 o’clock and we’ll drive to Dublin to get married.” She was, of course, waiting for him the next morning. They stopped to pick up a bridesmaid, Finola Flynn, in Elphin and, when they got to Longford, my father called his brother and said, “We are coming to Dublin to get married.” They were married on January 16, 1957 and enjoyed 46 years of very happy marriage.

Before I move on, I want to pay tribute to our mother. At the time, women were expected to play a somewhat subservient role. It was a very big decision she made – to follow her heart. I know it was a decision that pained her and created severe angst for her family. The payback for my mother was a very devoted husband and we are the beneficiaries of that love.

Later in life, when my mother was ill, Dad spent all of his time at the hospital. He would comb her hair, make her comfortable, and do anything for her. He had to make sure that his queen looked great.

When he was finished taking care of Mom, he’d make his rounds to visit the other women in the ward, taking care to reassure them and help them. One nurse told us that he was like a husband to all the women in the ward. At one point, a very ill woman used to call out for him, saying: “Come here, nurse in the suit.” All of you know he always dressed immaculately well.

Finally, it has to be said that, when we lost our mother, we also lost part of our father. He was not complete without her. After she died, he cried for years. If you visited, he could only talk about her – taking out a red photo album and showing you pictures. He’d tell you how beautiful she was and how happy they were. He would conclude with: “Why did God take her instead of me?”

Their Three Boys

The love Dad had for Mom extended to his three boys. He was a very affectionate man who couldn’t wait to tell you he loved you or give you a kiss. I remember him always wanting to hold our hands. We had no doubt about his love for us.

And here’s where I’ll tell a personal story. In 1993, I decided to go to America for a year. Before I left, I came home to Carrick to say my goodbyes. My mother couldn’t bring herself to come to the railway station when I left, so Dad brought me alone. He had a very bad habit of getting on the train, helping you get settled, and not getting off the train before it left the station – he often had to be rescued from nearby stations, Dromod or Boyle.

This time, I shooed him off the train and he appeared outside my carriage window. Tears were streaming down his face and he ran alongside the train as it left the station. I will never forget him, his love for me, and his love for his three boys. My two brothers also have their own stories.


Mom and Dad’s kindness was not confined to us boys. The nephews and nieces also benefitted from our open home. I honestly don’t know how my mother did it. They were a great team.

And there was one child in particular who won my father’s heart: John Paul. When Dad’s brother Steve needed some help, my father stepped in immediately to say, “We’ll take John Paul.” His own boys were teenagers and John Paul became his fourth son. He adored that gentle, vulnerable little boy who won all of our hearts. After a few years, when it was time for John Paul to go home to Dublin, my Dad was devastated. Fortunately for all of us, John Paul never forgot the role that Dad played in his life.

More recently, Dad loved his grandchildren. The arrival of his first grandchild, Matthew, delighted him. I remember coming home to Riverside House and seeing my mother and father surrounded by grandchildren. It was a joyous time, especially for Dad. I remember him lifting Matthew onto his knees. He’d start whispering some outrageously silly story into his ears and it would end with Dad giving Matt sweets or cash. That was just what Dad always did.

We three sons are filled with gratitude today. At the risk of omitting people, I’d like to mention some special people who have walked with us on parts of this journey:

  • Fr. Martin, for welcoming us and for his kindness at this time. My father held you in the highest regard.
  • Fr. Cathal for concelebrating.
  • Eleanor and Billy for such beautiful music – Dad would be thrilled with the sendoff. And what an beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace – I will never forget it.
  • The nursing staff at Drumderrig House Nursing Home and the medical staff at Sligo General. Dad received exception care, especially during his final days.
  • The people who brought food to the house and the family that helped at the house – you know we three boys really needed help.
  • My brother Gerry and his wife, Phil. My father lived independently in his own home until three years ago. It was a remarkable achievement, only made possible by your remarkable efforts, and I know he would be so proud.
  • On behalf of Gerry, Declan, and myself, I want to express our deepest gratitude to my sister-in-law Phil. There are no words that could ever thank you sufficiently for the constant, loving attention you gave to our father. You repeatedly went above and beyond to care for our father. Saying “thank you” will never be sufficient. You have been a great blessing for Dad and for us.
  • Aileen O’Boyle. Some years ago we needed to make some decisions about Dad’s care. It was not an easy time and we would not have navigated that time without her help and support.
  • Pauric and Annette Burke for their help and support over the past few days. My father knew your father and how you took care of us when our mother died. You should know that he wanted you to be responsible for his arrangements.

And two final thank yous:

  • First, to our immediately family. We always pull through for each other. Thank you for walking with us during these past few weeks.
  • And to all of you who have attended today, a huge thank you from us and from Peter. He would be delighted that so many of you have come to pay your respects.

A tale of two Thanksgivings.

I love this American holiday. It is not at all commercial and just a good time to enjoy lots of food and the company of friends/family. And hopefully, a bit of football.

I know I’m going to have a great Thanksgiving. I have already decided that it’s going to be great. But I heard two personal stories today that really exposed me to the big divide in our country and the need for healing in some families.

My first encounter is with “John” – not his real name. John is Jewish and his Dad escaped the holocaust. His Dad recalls the two attempts they made to flee Germany. A benevolent Nazi told his grandfather they could leave (vs. go to a camp) if they handed over their tailoring business and clothes shop (to make Nazi uniforms). Their first attempt to leave failed as Nazi’s would not let them board a boat to America. So his grandfather negotiated to leave on a freighter headed to China. They would live in a slum in Shanghai for 11 years before coming to the US. In my conversation with John this morning, he told me that his father waited until he was dying before he told him the full family history. As he is telling me his family story, “John” and I are both crying because John lost his Dad recently, as did I.

And then the conversation turned to Thanksgiving. His wife is from a conservative Christian family. She voted for Trump and her extended large family are delighted that he is President elect.

He told me: “I love my wife, but we just can’t talk. Trump stands for everything I do not believe in. And my Dad was the most honest, upstanding man I know and he’d be appalled at Trump. Thanksgiving is going to be really hard.”

As we left the conversation, both of us with big red eyes and tears flowing freely, there was a joining of the hearts and minds. In some ways, this exchange made my day.

This afternoon I went for a personal pilates lesson. There was another student with her teacher and it was impossible not to overhear their conversation. Both are delighted with our president-elect.

The client, a woman my age was expressing her delight at Trump’s appointment of Nikki Hailey: “and you know she’s a second generation Indian so he can’t be racist.” They spent most of their conversation lauding the people Trump is surrounding himself with. I didn’t hear most of their conversation but at one point I heard them both agree that they love Newt Gingrinch.

Then I heard the young instructor say: “my brother is an independent and he hates Trump. We are not talking.” I did not hear the rest of the conversation.

Two wildly different experiences. So my only hope, prayer, aspiration, is that we realize we have much more in common than we have that divides us. Maybe this Thanksgiving there’s an opportunity to build some bridges without ceding the ground we stand on, or forgetting the least of our brothers and sisters.

I hope I’m not too polyanna.

Happy Thanksgiving y’all.


A quick story.

Monday evening flight I sat beside an older black man with one of those giant rings. I’m embarrassed to admit that I immediately thought: “Must have been a football player or basketball player.”

I was killing myself with curiosity.
I couldn’t help myself.
And I rarely exchange more than pleasantries with a fellow flyer.
But, I couldn’t help myself (I’m bad that way).

Me: “Sir, I hope you don’t mind me noticing, you have a spectacular ring, and I’m wondering what it represents.”

Him: “I’m a McDonalds’ franchise holder, and I’m a long-term employee.”

Me (rather lamely and kind of upset that he wasn’t a star point-guard): “Oh that’s great, it’s quite spectacular.”

Him: “Oh, I’m very proud of it.”

Me: (standard coach question) “tell me more.”

Him: “Well, those 18 diamonds you see represent 18 black franchise holders who organized in 1995 to demand that McDonalds address some of the inequality in how the company was treating us vs. white owners.”

Me: (now listening with the ears of a rabbit). “Tell me about that inequality…”

Him: “You know the corporation was founded in 1955 but it was 1969 before it had it’s first black franchise holder. And we were treated differently, so our stores did not perform as well as those owned by white franchisees. So we got together in 1995 and demanded more and better support.”

Me: “And how did it work out?”

Him: “Well, it took seven years from 1995 to 2002 to bring our black owned stores to white-owned standards. But we did it and not only that, we have greatly expanded the number of black franchise holders.”

We had a longer conversation, where he disclosed that he grew up in poverty but went to college. He went to work for a large corporation but figured out in the ’80s that his career would likely hit a ceiling so he became determined to become self-employed. To cut a long story short, his determination to pursue owning a franchise has enabled him to lift his family out of poverty.

If you can suspend all of your judgments about McDonalds for a minute, the moral of the story is simple:

– I thought I was in the presence of a sports hero.

– I was actually in the presence of a real hero – someone who overcame all kinds of obstacles to make his way in life.

I keep learning that real heroes are those people who see limitation and crush it.


Recovering a Sense of Wonder

As a young boy I had a great sense of imagination. When playing street soccer, I’d suddenly become “Roy of the Rovers”. When we played war games or family games or whatever game we’d invent to entertain ourselves my friends and I could channel a whole cast of characters (I’d be slightly embarrassed to describe some of the games – some of them involved elaborate costumes and play acting). As a young boy it was easy to have a sense of wonder, imagination and play.

Upon reflection on my boyhood, it seems that all of the boys in my neighborhood suddenly had to “grow up” – I think this happened when we went to high/secondary school. At some point, I needed to carry a large school bag with lots of books that were quite sterile – no pictures, no drawing, no play. I recall that it became no longer cool to wonder at the world and my boyhood games became, well, “childish”. You could call it the slow death of wonder and imagination. It would appear, I wasn’t alone in this process of replacing wonder/imagination/play with a focus on rationalism.

Some boys didn’t allow school – with it’s focus on rationalism and science (all good of course) to diminish their sense of wonder and imagination. They are the creatives, the poets, the musicians. It is to them I am now turning, in an effort to reclaim and recover a sense of wonder at the world. Now that I “know” that everything created is scared, poets and musicians help me really see the mystery and sacred in all things.

What about you? What are you doing to maintain/recover a sense of wonder? What practices are you in to see everything in the world as sacred?

All of this leads me to a poem from Hafiz.



Do not

Want to step so quickly

Over a beautiful line on God’s palm

As I move through the earth’s




I do not want to touch any object in this world

Without my eyes testifying to the truth

That everything is

My Beloved.


Something has happened

To my understanding of existence

That now makes my heart always full of wonder

And kindness.


I do not

Want to step so quickly

Over this sacred place on God’s body

That is right beneath your

Own foot


As I

Dance with

Precious life


What are the habits of highly successful people?

I am quite certain that successful people have a lot of discipline – whatever they choose to practice. As a young man in boarding school, and later as a monk, I learned the value of discipline. I doubt I would have ever achieved academic success without the discipline of planning my day and attending to the most important stuff early in the morning.

I like Robin Sharma’s writing. He has a blog post about the daily routines of the rock stars of achievement. Here’s an excerpt that lists the unique practices of highly successful people:


 –Ernest Hemingway: Up at 5:30 every morning to write even if he’d been drinking the night before. He wrote as a practice, not just when he felt inspired.

Benjamin Franklin: Sat naked every morning in fresh air for his “bath” which he swore fuelled his energy and creativity. He also listed 13 character traits he wanted to build and measured how he lived against each of them every night before he slept (in a journal).

Padmasree Warrior (Chief Technology Officer at Cisco Systems): Regular “digital detoxes” where she unplugs from technology to reboot her brain and replenish her creative reserves.

Leonardo da Vinci: Slept via small naps throughout the day versus sleeping 8 hours straight. The famed inventor Thomas Edison reportedly did the same thing (as does Hip-Hop mogul Sean “P. Diddy” Combs).

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Daily walks which shifted his mindset from the mundane to the original. The Great Nelson Mandela used to walk entire days for the exercise and mind-clearing effects the discipline would deliver. So many extreme achievers take a walk every day; ideally take your walk in nature. And bring a means to capture the outpouring of fresh insights that will flow.

Steve Jobs: Would fast for extended periods of time, recognizing that it created a sense of euphoria within him that motivated his dazzling output of ideas. He also loved carrots, eating so many during one period that his skin turned to a soft orange color.

Maya Angelou: Writes in a cheap and spartan hotel room she rents. She awakens at home around 5:30 each morning, has coffee with her husband and then shows up at the hotel room to do seriously productive work by 7 am. “It’s lonely and it’s marvellous,” she says. Personally, I’ve done the most important work of my career in hotel rooms from Buenos Aires to Auckland. And on airplanes (the longer the flight the more I get done).

Ludwig Van Beethoven: Loved his coffee and measured out his beans with meticulous love and care: 60 beans per cup. Many elite performers use this drink as a productivity tool. But please do so in moderation: Balzac drank 50 cups a day. Sadly, he died from a heart attack at 51.

Mick Jagger: Exercises 6 days a week and includes ballet, pilates and yoga in his regimen. Sir Mick clearly gets that fitness rewires the brain to fight fear, reduces the stress response and multiplies stamina.

Stephen King: Writes every single day of the year and does not get up from the pursuit of his craft until his daily quota of two thousand words has been met.

Please also remember that: The quality of your habits defines the caliber of your performance.


See more at: http://www.robinsharma.com/blog/10/daily-routines-of-the-rock-stars-of-achievement/#sthash.oNKgq2Uu.dpuf

GAY – Is it really something to be proud of?

It’s gay pride and I find myself asking the question some might ask: “What’s there to be proud of?” It’s not like I graduated with high honors from gay school or won an event at the gay Olympics. I also couldn’t be bothered to go to any kind of a parade. I also don’t give a frig what anyone thinks of me – yes really, I don’t care what you think about me. But I wasn’t always like this. So I had to do a bit of an archeological dig into my past to try and understand why I should celebrate gay pride.

In my teen years I began to realize, to my great horror, that when I had a “crush,” it didn’t involve a girl. The confusing part is that, as a teen, I had a girlfriend for many years and I’m pretty sure I liked her a lot. At this point in my life I was terrified that someone might call me gay or queer – as if they might somehow know the big secret I was hiding. I did everything to hide my sexuality. I was a pretty good athlete and I think that probably saved me from some bullying. Luckily, I never had suicidal thoughts because a good priest told me “it’s a phase – you’ll grow out of it.”

Well, when I was about 20, I knew that the “phase” thing was a bit of a joke. Living in Dublin, I had found a bookshop across from the entrance to Trinity College that had gay books and a magazine called Gay Times. I distinctly remember the absolute terror I’d have walking up to that section of the bookstore and wondering if anyone would see me. I never bought any of the “gay” books or magazines. If anyone came close to me, I’d just shift over to the next section and suddenly pick up a book about history. This small act of going to this bookstore was like an emotional rollercoaster: the fear, trepidation and shaky legs when walking up to the gay section and the fleeting feeling of relief – knowing that there were other gays out there.

Over a period of about 18 months, I think, I began to realize that there was absolutely nothing wrong with me. That in fact, the real issue was simply with how people might perceive me. First, my studies in social psychology taught me about in-group and out-group psychology. It turned out that one of my professors – a good Jesuit, Fr. Micheal McGreil – was an expert on prejudice. I began to see that people’s attitudes are the real problem. Further studies in social theory (especially Michel Foucault and Hegel) helped me make a huge personal leap into realizing that I wasn’t deviant and that such a label was arbitrary. I was also a religious brother at this time and it was clear to me that if I was “made in the image and likeness of God” – then good ole God is kinda gay too!!

By 1989 I had come out to a few friends, to my two brothers and I then left the monastery – I was 24.

I still had to work for a living and, teaching in a highly regarded, all-boys Catholic school, I had to be extra careful. What would happen if some of the teachers (or worse, the students) found out? It was, on the one hand, a very liberating time – I was part of the gay community in Dublin, volunteered for Gay Switchboard, helped a Saturday evening group of men coming out of the closet (thank you Tony – I will never forget how much you made me laugh and how comfortable you made us all feel) – that side of life was great. My weekends involved coaching rugby or attending rugby matches on a Saturday morning and off to my big gay life in the afternoon. AND when Monday morning swung around, questions in the staffroom (“What did you get up to for the weekend?”) were extremely difficult to answer. I told lies and it gnaws at your soul to have to tell lies. It took me a full two years before I told another teacher that I was gay. I was terrified that it would impact my efforts to be made a “permanent” (tenured) teacher – at this time, homosexuality was illegal in Ireland. I only disclosed to my good friend Brendan Byrne after I was made permanent.

I knew I wasn’t the only one in this position at work and, for my master’s degree at UCD, I wrote about homophobia in the workplace. At that time, there wasn’t a single other academic study of homosexuality in Ireland that I could reference (homosexuality remained illegal in Ireland until 1993). I survey sampled my friends at Gay Switchboard – 40 out of 50 returned the questionnaire. You’ll notice that I submitted my thesis using a Gaelic version of my name. For my troubles, this piece of work earned first class honors.

The desire to live unfettered and free from other people’s prejudice would lead me to leave Ireland in 1993 and move to San Francisco. I attended my first pride parade that year and I balled crying at the endless parade of gay people of every shape, size and color AND a huge number of straight people who turned out in support.

So if you are still reading…I am going to answer the question: what am I proud of?

– I am proud of my self-acceptance and desire to live free from anyone else’s attitude toward me or thoughts about me.

– I am proud to be a part of a community of people that doesn’t let what other people think of them define what they do or accomplish in life.

– I am proud that I have a great relationship with a man I love that has been sealed by marriage (in Canada).

– I’m proud that we now live in a world where gay children can grow up with a lot less fear than I did. I’m proud that those children can say: “Look at Damien, he’s gay and he has a happy, fulfilled life.” When I was growing up, I had no such role models.

And here’s the rub: it doesn’t matter if you are straight or gay; when we truly “grow up” we live lives that are self-directed and where we can demonstrate self-reliance. We never let other people dictate who we can be or limit what we can accomplish. Perhaps just growing up is something to be proud of – some of us just have a few more obstacles on that path.

P.S. My legal first name is Aidan.